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Bush's Job-Training Plan Raises Host of Questions

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WASHINGTON--The unexpected announcement of a White House plan to grant local private-industry councils sweeping oversight and administrative powers over federal vocational education and job-training programs left educators and lawmakers searching last week to determine its impact beyond the initial media splash.

A five-page White House fact sheet outlining the plan and a two page speech delivered by President Bush in unveiling the initiative on Jan. 17 in Atlanta provide the only specifics on the program.

Capitol Hill aides said last week that the plan appears to be the hastily finished work of a White House task force created last spring and headed by Vice President Quayle and Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin.

"It's been a surprise to everyone," said a House aide involved in recent amendments to the Job Training Partnership Act. That law, cosponsored in 1982 by Mr. Quayle when he was a U.S. Senator from Indiana, inaugurated local private-industry councils to govern federal job-training efforts.

J.T.P.A. Revisions Lawmakers are said to be puzzled why the proposals unveiled by President Bush have not surfaced in the Administration's plans to amend the J.T.P.A.

The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee is scheduled next week to mark up its plan for J.T.P.A. revisions, which have been developed over the past three years. Aides said last week, however, that the President's proposal, called "Job Training 2000," was not expected to be part of the J.T.P.A. bill.

Congressional aides said they had seen no indication of how or when the President will follow up the plan,' which apparently remains incomplete. One aide said that Labor Department officials who briefed legislative staff members following Mr. Bush's speech were unable to answer several questions and appeared almost as unfamiliar with its provisions as lawmakers were.

Rather than seeing the plan as a legislative proposal, educators and lawmakers should view it as the beginning of an effort to coordinate the local delivery of federal programs related to job training, Betsy Brand, the Education Department's assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, said last week.

Ms. Brand, a former Senate aide to Mr. Quayle, said Education Department officials have been involved in the Administration's debate on the subject and they like the plan.

"We support the concepts presented in the [White House] paper and recognize they are discussion pieces," she said. "There is still a lot of work to be done to flesh them out."

Vocational-education representatives said they were anxious to hear more about the plan.

"We were very alarmed with [the President's] statements," said Bret Lovejoy, the American Vocational Association's assistant executive director for governmental relations.

'Bureaucratic Overkill'

The summary released following the Atlanta speech said the Bush proposal would expand the authority of the private-industry councils.

The groups, composed largely of local business and labor leaders, currently supervise federally funded job training offerings within regional boundaries. Under the President's plan, their oversight would be increased to certify all local vocational education and job-training programs and to coordinate more than $11 billion in training programs.

According to the White House fact sheet, the efforts coordinated by the councils would include the J.T.P.A. program, postsecondary vocational programs funded by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act, the Adult Education Act, federal welfare-to-work programs, and some federal student-aid efforts.

The councils would operate through new "skills centers," which would be overhauled versions of the Labor Department's current Employment Service system. President Bush said in his speech that the new centers would offer "one-stop shopping" for people who qualify for the federal vocational-training programs.

"Right now, the federal government's commitment to worker training spans more than 60 programs, seven federal agencies, [and] resources totaling some $18 billion a year," Mr. Bush told his audience at an Atlanta youth job-training project.

The new programs run by private industry councils, he argued, "will move us away from the heavy hand of a bureaucratic overkill to a system that allows greater freedom for the private sector and local governments to shape programs that work."

The President's initiative would call on the departments of Education and Labor to establish voluntary skill standards and to create a certification system tied to proficiency standards. The plan also would encourage apprenticeship programs for high school juniors and seniors.

In addition, it would emphasize welfare-to-work innovations and envisions "lifetime education and training accounts" that would replace student aid for youths and adults eligible for federal assistance. The plan said that provision would be part of the President's proposed budget for fiscal 1993, due out this week.

'Unbelievable' Opposition

For vocational educators, the plan would complicate their efforts to retain sole control of traditional vocational programs.

After warding off an effort by lawmakers last year to combine state level vocational-education and job training oversight councils, the educators have battled again to keep separate state-policy councils during the amendments to the J.T.P.A.

One Capitol Hill aide called the educators' opposition to a single state coordinating council "unbelievable."

"Any proposal, whether it is optional or mandatory, has been strongly opposed," the aide said.

Vocational educators now find themselves facing the White House plan for combined coordination of vocational-education and job-training efforts at the local level.

"People are concerned about education getting lost in the shuffle here and confusing the first-chance education system with second chance employment programs," said Mr. Lovejoy of the A.v.A.

He said vocational educators would oppose any effort to place their programs under J.T.P.A. administrators.

"There is a significant difference between education and training," added David DePue, the executive director of the Kansas Council on Vocational Education.

Action This Year Unlikely

Because many of the Bush proposals are likely to prove contentious and the White House has indicated the plan remains in rough form, it is unlikely that lawmakers will be able to address the plan this year.

Vice President Quayle and Secretary Martin began working last spring on an Administration task force examining job-training issues. Congressional aides said last week that they had believed the group was working toward a deadline in April or May of this year.

Election-year pressure on the President to show that he has a plan to help bolster the economy and stem unemployment apparently accelerated the need for the job-training plan, the aides speculated.

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